Where were you born?
I was born in Inglewood, California. At the time it was a scary gang-infested place, and our family home was ransacked and burglarized. I also remember my father having to chase someone down the street who was lurking around our property.
Where did you attend college? I was an English major at BYU. I also worked at BYU in both the Admissions and School Relations Offices.
What are your hobbies?
It sounds cheesy, but my hobby is writing. I love to do it; I’m obsessed with it. It’s work and play at the same time. I also enjoy reading, biking, going on dates with my husband, checking email and Facebook, chatting with my sisters on the phone, and watching great movies. There are about ten DVDs that I’ve probably watched fifty times each (at least), and I never tire of them.
What are your favorite all-time books?
I always find this question nearly impossible to answer. But here are some books I’ve read recently and enjoyed:
The Actor and the Housewife, by Shannon Hale
Star Girl, by Jerry Spinelli
This is What I Did: by Ann Dee Ellis
The Chosen One, by Carol Lynch Williams
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
As for picture books, my childhood favorites were:
The Monster at the End of this Book, by Jon Stone
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst
When did you start writing your books and how long did it take to get them published?
I’ve been writing stories since I was a small child, and announced to my parents that I wanted to be an author when I was about six. I didn’t know any authors or writers, and have no idea where the desire came from. It’s something I’ve known I wanted to do from my very earliest memory.
So considering how young I was when I had the dream, it’s hard to say exactly how long it took me to get published. But it wouldn’t be a stretch to say more than thirty years. Specifically, it took me about eight years to get my first book published, from the time I wrote it to seeing it on the shelves.
Who is your hero/ mentor?
My hero is my mother, Kathryn Gale Riley, who died of breast cancer on February 15, 1994 at the young age of 50. She taught me to believe I could accomplish anything if I worked hard enough. She had total confidence in me, even when I didn’t. And she cared deeply about even the most minute, insignificant details of my life. It’s hard to lose someone like that.
My mentor is Rick Walton. Rick is the author of more than 75 children’s books, and he took me under his wing when I was a student in his class. He taught me how to properly craft a picture book and then — even more important–showed me how to navigate the frightening world of marketing and publicity once I began to sell manuscripts. I will be forever grateful for his wisdom, insight, and friendship.
What suggestion would you give young writers?
Don’t delude yourself by thinking writing for children is easy. It isn’t. Go to every writing conference and class you can possibly afford. Be an eager student. Pay attention and take notes. Seek out the authors who write the way you want to, and get advice from them. Find mentors – people who are ahead of you in the publishing process. Ask and learn from them. And of course, write, and get as much feedback from other writers as you can. Crave critiques like a junkie. Look for trends in the comments you’re receiving. What are you doing wrong in your story? Fix it. Keep getting feedback and fixing. Get feedback, fix. Get feedback, fix. Be driven and determined, and publication will happen.
Where did the inspiration for your books come from?
COOL DADDY RAT was inspired by three years of living in the heart of New York City. That place is its own universe, with a rhythm all its own, and the feel of it never left me.
Writing BEDTIME AT THE SWAMP was a strange experience of sitting up to the computer, typing the first few lines of text, and having an uninvited chorus just storm right into the story. Then it took off running as I tried frantically to keep up. It hasn’t happened since, but I hope it will soon.
THE MIDDLE-CHILD BLUES was inspired by the old Enjoli television advertisement I remembered from my childhood. It used part of the song “I’m a Woman” by Peggy Lee. It went, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan….” That tune has been stuck in my head–honestly– for three decades. I especially loved the big band echoing the voice. “I can bring home the bacon,” BUM BAH DA DAH, etc. So I was sitting with my middle son goofing around on my laptop and started typing text with that tune in my head. “Well, first there was Raymond,” BUM BAHH DA DAH. “And then came Lee…” And since my middle son was sitting with me, I sang, “I’ve got the middle child blues,” and he laughed. It clicked. As is typical for me, the words and the rhythm of the manuscript come first. Then, when I’ve finally got a good vibe going I realize the story is a mess. So I have to go back and craft a story within the rhyme scheme I’ve set up. That’s the grueling part. It’s a backwards way of doing things.
Are you working on any books right now?
I’m always working on something. Right now I’m writing a middle-grade novel, and a handful of new picture books.
What do you aspire to do before you die?
Celebrate my ninetieth birthday. Hopefully I’ll have authored bunches of books.
How do you find time to write/illustrate with other responsibilities?
I’ve got seven children, so finding time to write has been challenging. I’ve had to use a laptop and position it in the center of the house, where I could generally observe kids coming and going and direct traffic. For many years there was no possible way for me to write alone, quietly by myself. I had to filter noise in my brain. Now, my youngest child is in first grade and I’ve finally got all day by myself to write. It’s been fantastic.
What was your road to being published like?
Ten years ago I registered for the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop http://www.foryoungreaders.com/facultybios.html as an unpublished writer, snuck into Rick Walton’s class (they said it was full) and he thought my work was good enough to show to the visiting agent. He set-up a private meeting, but she only laughed at my work. Really. (It wasn’t a good laugh.) When I returned to Rick’s class, he picked my spirits up off the floor and referred me to a different agent, but I was afraid to go through that humiliation again. When I finally did muster the courage, I sent off my stories, and three months later the second agent enthusiastically signed me on. I often wonder, what if I hadn’t tried again?
What is your all-time favorite children’s book?
My favorite picture book of all-time is Saving Sweetness, by Diane Stanley. I think it’s absolutely brilliant.
Do you have a writer’s group?
I have an amazing writer’s group, and I believe every writer (aspiring and published) should be in one. I wouldn’t sell a single manuscript without the amazing insights of my group. I also love the way we cheer for each other’s successes, and support each other during times of disappointment.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do an interview with us! Kristyn has generously donated for a giveaway! And watch for upcoming reviews and an author chat with her coming soon!
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